This last week I was finally let go from my job – not my regular 9 to 5 you understand, but from my side gig - as a personal shopper. It was always for a very select clientele, mind you – just my parents-in-law and my mother. But I did get to do it for an entire year.
It all started with a gallon of milk. Last March, when the first inkling of COVID-19 hit our area, I called my parents-in-law and offered to pick up some milk for them on my way to see my mother. We chatted amiably, through our brand-new masks, on their front step. It was great to see them, and they were happy to be able to avoid the unspecified new threats of the store. At my mother’s place it was a similar scene – new masks, a half-gallon of milk, and the unknown stretching before us. And it all went from there. Very soon, I fell into a weekly pattern. Every Friday I would go straight from work to the grocery store, with two lists in my hand. A first tour of the store would see me back at the car, putting groceries in the trunk for one household. Then I would return to the fray, bringing a second haul to put in the back seat for the other household. First stop would always be my parents-in-law, for a drop off and check in. Then a quick swing by the coffee shop to get carryout coffee for two, and on to my mother’s. I would drop the groceries in her kitchen and then we would get on to the more important work of sitting six feet apart on her front porch, drinking coffee and catching up on the week’s news.
Over the year there were a lot of weird shortages. There was the initial run on toilet paper of course. But remember the great yeast crisis? When suddenly everyone started baking their own bread. That lasted several weeks. At another point, I couldn’t find bacon for love or money. And for long stretches, tofu was simply a distant dream. And then, most recently, I discovered the unbearable lightness of grape nuts. Each time, the empty shelves would put me in mind of stories I used to hear from communist East Germany. In those difficult years, people would see a line outside a store and automatically join the line, even if they didn’t know what it was for; and then they would buy whatever the line led to, simply because that item was actually there. After a year of COVID shopping, I could relate. Once, during a particularly barren month in the cereal aisle, I confess to making a wild impulse purchase of five boxes of Bran Flakes when they reappeared, no doubt sealing my reputation as a regular shopper.
Throughout this extraordinary year, I’ve been struck at the patience and courage of grocery store workers. The folks who sanitize carts over and over. The checkout cashiers who have faced thousands of customers, some of whom wouldn’t wear masks, week after week - each day I’m sure having some uncertainty about whether today was the day they would be exposed to COVID 19. That kind of unassuming courage was especially striking in the early months when we knew so little and feared so much, but is no less honorable now as the months have stretched beyond a year. Also, kudos to the legions of designated shoppers. Professionals in their matching t shirts, much more organized than amateurs like me, who have delivered groceries to so many throughout our communities, allowing the most vulnerable to stay safely home. I salute them all.
I am incredibly fortunate. My three parents all made it through COVID - I don’t take that for granted. I am one of the lucky ones. COVID strengthened our family bonds.
A few weeks ago, when I delivered the groceries, my mother in law said, You know we just got our second shots. Pretty soon we’re going to be able to get the groceries ourselves again. I felt a pang of sadness. What if this regular connection goes away? Then she looked at me and said, But we’d still like you to come over for dinner!
There was a beat, and then we both smiled.
Music: "Deliver Me" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers